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Peter Singer: The why and how of effective altruism
If you’re lucky enough to live without want, it’s a natural impulse to be altruistic to others. But, asks philosopher Peter Singer, what’s the most effective way to give? He talks through some surprising thought experiments to help you balance emotion and practicality — and make the biggest impact with whatever you can share.
Sometimes controversial, always practical ethicist Peter Singer stirs public debate about morality, from animal welfare to global poverty.
WHY YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO HIM?
Peter Singer may be, as The New Yorker calls him, the planet’s “most influential living philosopher.” The Australian academic specializes in applied ethics, to which he takes a secular, utilitarian approach — minimize suffering, maximize well-being. He gained recognition in the 1970s with his groundbreaking book Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals, which questions society’s tendency to put human needs above those of members of other species. And he draws fire from critics who object to his fascinating argument in favor of an obligation to help the global poor that sets the bar so high that it means we are almost all living unethically. His defense of euthanasia and infanticide, in some circumstances, has led to protests against his lectures and to teaching position at Princeton.
But Singer’s collective body of work is more acclaimed than controversial. He has written the classic text Practical Ethics and many other books, with more in progress. He lectures at Princeton, where he is professor of bioethics, and the University of Melbourne, where he is a laureate professor. You can find dozens of brief, brilliant essays at Project Syndicate, where Singer examines the philosophical questions surrounding current topics like Obamacare, computer piracy and obesity.
“Singer’s work is challenging, not because his writing is difficult to understand but because it is all too clear. He … has a knack for pushing people out of their moral comfort zone.” Scientific American, 10/22/12
Where are they? Anders Sandberg
On the long term, how much change in the universe can a civilization possibly cause? In this talk, Anders Sandberg brings an enthusiastic introduction to the different scenarios of the Fermi paradox and what they mean for the future of humanity.
Anders Sandberg is James Martin Research Fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, as well as associated with the Oxford Neuroethics Centre, the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and the Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology.
Irrespective of whether we are princes or paupers, we all leave a legacy. As important as it may be, that legacy is less about personal estates, personal accolades, and personal accomplishments than personal values! Legacy is all about behaving in alignment with a personal model of “what good looks like” and handing off its reflection to other people, places and institutions. Legacy is always a reflection of personal values and how those values live in behaviour.
Values are greatly influenced by current and past cultures. For example, we live in an era where personal values typically trump familial, societal, and institutional values. Since values are the prism through which we view the universe, hearing stories of a different time and place where people placed greater value on giving purpose to collective effort than personal goals, it is often difficult for us not to be dismissive or judgmental of the values of past generations. Frequently they just don’t fit with current ideas of “what good looks like”.
I recently came across a story of a Canadian family of a century ago that left a powerful legacy in southern Ontario. As you read the article, you will likely discover that the legacy of those in the story is one of bridges, highways, botanical gardens, and public works. However, you will also discover that their legacy is also about lives of personal sacrifice and giving purpose to collective effort.
It would be easy for us to dismiss the story as an example of values and customs that are out of touch with today’s realities. Maybe they are. However, this way of thinking would miss the point of the article. The article offers us an opportunity to reflect about our personal model of what good looks like against the backdrop of a bygone era.
Remember, our real values live in our behaviour. If you want to do a reality check on your true values, ask yourself what are you willing to fight for; then check your answers against the backdrop of your behaviours. This will likely get you closer to understanding your legacy as it stands right now. Meaningful reflections! – Dr. Bill DeMarco
- Ethical Wills: Preserving a Legacy of Values for Your Family and Community (moneymanager.com)
- Family Values and Business Values Should Align (lugenfamilyoffice.wordpress.com)